Posts Tagged ‘University of Leeds’

The Ab Soc debate saga

Friday, October 1st, 2010 | Humanism, Religion & Politics

Because the Islamic Society at Leeds University Union generally refuse to talk to us, we were left wondering how we could get an Islamic debate for this year’s Reason Week 2010 held in April.

In the end the solution we went with was to contact Ahlul Bayt, which is a different sect of Islam – they are basically to Islamic Society what the Catholic Society is to the Christian Union. They’re treasurer had spoken at an interfaith panel discussion we had held before so we were on fairly good terms with them.

The debate itself took place to a packed out tent, as people crowded in to hear Norman Ralph speak for our side on the subject of whether Islam provides everything you need to live a good life.

The debate itself went very well so we thought. With a formal debate there is always a little toing and throwing – or as you would normally call it, debate, but everything seemed to remain friendly.

We had also gone out of our way to accommodate the members of their society, providing a specifically vegetarian dinner with no meat option at all so that we could avoid any issues surrounding non-Halal meat.

One rather amusing incident was when the present of AbSoc, who was sitting in the audience, raised her hand to make a point and explained that she wore the headscarf because it empowered her to hide her looks. Norman countered by pointing out that with or without her headscarf, she was clearly a rather attractive woman.

The debate continued and afterwards several of their society members hung around to continued the debate is a less formal environment until eventually everyone dissipated and we thought job well done.

However a week later we received an email from Ab Soc saying that our attitude had ruined the debate. They accused us of not being impartial, of them not being given chance to respond to points and it generally being an attack on Islam.

They also said it was highly inappropriate for people to have been drinking in the tent and that there were people in the corner shouting and jeering which isn’t “the sort of behaviour that we expect at a formal debate.”

Further more, when they’re speaker spoke about the constitution of Islam, an audience member apparently replied “that’s shit” and Ab Soc went on to demand that there was “action taken against this person” as it was “at least offensive and at greatest illegal!”

To address these points…

The debate was chaired by a representative of Debate Society. I personally felt they were impartial, but even if you didn’t, I don’t see how you can throw a criticism at Atheist Society for that.

The people shouting and jeering in the corner of the tent where not members of the Atheist Society. But even if they were – that actually is the kind o attitude you expect at a debate. It isn’t a real debate unless there is at least some fist banging and shouts of “here, here!”

These were the same people who were drinking. We have a no alcohol policy in the tent, but we don’t control these people and drinking is part of the real world – they wouldn’t tolerate alcohol in a mosque nor would we take alcohol in out of respect, and yet when they come to our venue they do not respect our free choice to consume alcohol.

Finally, it certainly isn’t illegal to criticise an idea. I’m not exactly sure what is referred to by the “constitution of Islam” but I’m fairly sure it is a pile of shit and I have every right to voice that opinion under British law.

Obviously the first reaction of the committee was a very offended one but we soon calmed down and suggested we just ignore it. Our president at the time Sophie, felt that it needed a response though and decided that rather than cause an argument she would send an apology.

We presumed this would be the end of it but apparently not – we received another angry email back from Ab Soc, in response to our apology, saying that Norman had repeatedly attacked Islamic and this should have been totally off the cards is a debate about Islam.

Meanwhile, when Sophie had pointed out that they had laid into homosexuals during the debate this was only apparently because someone had asked about it and the question was answered “representing Islam” which as you will probably know, is intolerant of homosexuality.

They then want on to state that saying “that’s shit” was a violation of the Public Order Act because several members of the audience felt “distressed” by the comment. They went on to say that they would never make such a comment (presumably about the atheist constitution if there was such a thing) and put this down to their respect for diversity – even though they’ve already said that they don’t tolerate the gays.

At this point we made a decision as a committee that Ab Soc were just looking for an argument and the best thing to do would be to simply turn the other cheek and ignore the email so as to not aggravate the situation any further. Again, we presumed this would be the end of it.

However a week later we received another email from Ab Soc demanding an answer to their previous email.

So eventually Sophie emailed him back saying she hadn’t responded because she didn’t want to cause more of an argument, but while we’re on the subject we didn’t appreciate being compared to football hooligans, that she didn’t appreciate the threatening emails he had been sending her and that if they wanted to go the police and ask for a criminal investigation, we would welcome it.

Personally I would have added that if we were to be held accountable for the behaviour of people who weren’t members of our society but were never the less self describing as atheists, whether Ab Soc would be answering for those individuals self describing as Muslims who carried out 7-7 and 9-11. But Sophie is more diplomatic than I am.

Ab Soc shortly emailed back saying they would discuss their next move in their next committee meeting but encouraged us to take their emails to the police if we wanted, showing how meaningless their initial threats against Sophie had been.

Sophie still wanted to repair relationships however and so set up a meeting with Kay, our development coordinator for faith and cultural societies at the union. The meeting with Kay went well – Sophie presented her case and Kay agreed that the emails were threatening and offered to set up a meeting with Ab Soc so we could talk it out.

Unfortunately, on the day the meeting was schedule to take place, Kay was off sick. It was rescheduled to a week later but again, when the say came Kay was off sick again so once again the meeting didn’t take place. So by this point we decided to give up and wait to see if anyone else forced the issue. And that was the end of our exciting adventure with Ab Soc.

University of Leeds staff fair

Sunday, September 5th, 2010 | Foundation, Humanism

On Friday we were down at the University of Leeds 2010 staff fair to promote the Humanist Chaplaincy at the university.


Friday, August 6th, 2010 | Friends, Life

Because I don’t yet have a partner to send individual congratulation cards with both our names on it, I thought I would just give a shout of congratulations to all those who have recently graduated.

Most notably my sister who recently received a 2i in Theatre Costume Design. Of course, it’s not quite as good as having a degree from a Russell Group university such as the University of Leeds, but it’s very good none the less and that’s the perfect amount for remaining on good terms with me.

Also congratulations to Kat, Sarah, Charlotte (kind of), James and anyone else who has graduated recently who I genuinely do care about, just not enough to remember you’ve just graduated.

Getting old

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 | Friends

Myself and George hit The Old Bar last night. It was a somewhat sobering experience, which was useful given I was driving, but never the less unwelcome reminder that we’re getting on a bit.

I didn’t leave my previous engagement until 9:30, which resulted in me getting to the union at 9:45, which I thought was rather late to be hitting the pub. Never the less it was dead in The Old Bar. I mean, there were a fair few people but few enough to allow everyone to get a seat and after all it’s freshers’ week – you would expect it to be rammed.

After a few drinks we headed off a little after 11 – at which point hordes of people began arriving in the bar. Granted I still had two hours of work to do when I got home so it wasn’t like I was going home to bed, but there can be little doubt it’s a sign of the inevitable aging of the class of ’08.

George Chris

Thus beginneth

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 | Events

Monday saw the start of freshers’ week as we began the recruitment drive for members this year. The first days days of the fair have been reasonably successful, especially with myself and Zoltan speaking on the welcome stage on Tuesday lunch time.

The stall Freshers week '09 Atheist Society stall

Back on Red Route

Friday, September 18th, 2009 | Life


This was actually from a couple of weeks ago. I took the photos on my iPhone and uploaded them using the WordPress app. Seems to work reasonably well.

Graduation ’09

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 | Friends

With Kieran up in Leeds for the SoC 2009 graduation we headed out on Monday night for a beer or two. While there was a very disappointing turnout it was never the less a very enjoyable evening start with some food at Wetherspoon’s before heading down to O’Neils and ending up back at ‘spoon’s for more drinks.

It was great to see a lot of people who seemed to be struggling at some point to come through with flying colours. Congratulations to all who made it!

Jez and Charlie Chris and Jez Chris and Kieran

Interfaith social

Monday, May 11th, 2009 | Humanism

Thursday saw an interfaith social supposedly organsed by the interfaith assembly. They didn’t really do anything other than delegate all the work to Nicola though. The event featured a quiz and a buffet which was nice though Nicola did all the food so it soon ran out. Of course the real socialising took place in The Old Bar afterwards but that is to be expected 😀 .

Interfaith social Interfaith social Jonni and Chris

Tuesday night shenanigans

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 | Life

A lot of stuff went wrong Tuesday. By 1pm there had been so many things go wrong I was ready to give up for the day but in the end a few things pulled themselves round and didn’t end too badly.

The evening saw us take up a debate on Scientology looking at whether it was a cult or not. Attendance was fairly good though we had been moved into the resource lounge (which was better than the original plan of just not having a room).

After this we headed down to The Old Bar to join the Christian Union’s barn dance. Not that we did that much dancing, we had drinking to do, but it was fun never the less.

Tom and John Nicola Norm and Chris

Mission Week

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 | Religion & Politics

Is it really that time of year again?

This week is the Christian Union’s Mission Week and so as part of it we had an A-Soc trip down to see David Hamilton, former terrorist from Nothern Ireland, deliver a talk.

I found it a good chance to catch up with CU male president Joel, having already seen the talk before, though those that had not seen it before were on the whole fairly angered by it lol. The feeling was that the talk basically said it’s ok to be a terrorist because Jesus will forgive you.

Never the less I had fun and it was good to see quite a few people I haven’t seen in a while, even if I don’t know a lot of the upper echelons of the CU anymore.

Mission Week Mission Week Mission Week